Reformation Theology

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Perspicuity of Scripture in the Lutheran Reformers: Reformation 500

785px-Bible_and_Lord's_Cup_and_Bread2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is hailed by many as the start of the Reformation: Luther’s sharing his 95 Theses. I’ve decided to celebrate my Lutheran Protestant Tradition by highlighting some of the major issues that Luther and the Lutherans raised through the Reformation period. I hope you will join me as we remember the great theological (re)discoveries that were made during this period.

Perspicuity of Scripture in the Lutheran Reformers

Luther himself wrote on perspicuity in no uncertain terms:

[T]hat in Scripture there are some things abstruse, and everything is not plain–this is an idea put about by the ungodly Sophists… I admit… that there are many texts in the Scriptures that are obscure and abstruse, not because of the majesty of their subject matter, but because of our ignorance of their vocabulary and grammar; but these texts in no way hinder a knowledge of al the subject matter of Scripture. (Luther, The Bondage of the Will, 110, cited below)

So far as I know, Luther did not change his stance on the perspicuity of Scripture. As the Reformation continued, however, it became clear that such a stance might not be appropriate regarding the entirety of every declaration of Scripture. Lutheran reformers qualified perspicuity, noting that it applied only to that which pertains to salvation.[1] Heinrich Schmid, in his Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (translated 1875) compiles quotations from the major early Lutheran reformers to outline what Lutherans taught. Regarding perspicuity, Schmid notes:

If the Sacred Scriptures contain everything necessary to salvation, and if they alone contain it, they must necessarily exhibit it so clearly and plainly that it is accessible to the comprehension of every one; hence the attribute of Perspicuity is ascribed to the Sacred Scriptures… But whilst such perspicuity is ascribed to the Sacred Scriptures, it is not meant that every particular that is contianed in them is equally clear and plain to all, but only that all that is necessary to be known in order to salvation is clearly and plainly taught in them… it is also not maintained that the Sacred Scriptures can be understood without the possession of certain prerequisites [such as the language, maturity of judgment, unprejudiced mind, etc.].(Schmid, 87-88, emphasis his)

Schmid’s summary of Lutheran doctrine in the Reformation period sounds different from what Luther taught in The Bondage of the Will, but he shows from direct citations that this is the direction Lutherans moved in regarding perspicuity. To whit, Gerhard:

It is to be observed that when we call the Scriptures perspicuous, we do not mean that every particular expression, anywhere contained in Scripture, is so constituted that at the first glance it must be plainly and fully understood by every one. On the other hand, we confess that certain things are obscurely expressed in Scripture and difficult to be understood… (quoted in Schmid, 89)

Quenstedt:

We do not maintain that all Scripture, in every particular, is clear and perspicuous. For we grant that certain things are met with in the sacred books that are very obscure… not only in respect to the sublimity of their subject-matter, but also as to the utterance of the Holy Spirit… (ibid, 90, Quenstedt goes on to deny that there are doctrines that are so obscure that they “can nowhere be found clearly and explicitly”)

Hollaz:

The perspicuity of Scripture is not absolute, but dependent upon the use of means, inasmuch as, in endeavoring to understand it, the divinely instituted method must be accurately observed… (ibid, 91)

The whole section clarifies and explains the earliest Lutheran teaching regarding perspicuity of Scriptures, and it is clear that it is acknowledged that not every single text is plain, that the guidance of the Holy Spirit, among other things, is required to understand Scripture rightly, and that plain passage of Scripture are to be used to interpret those which seem obscure.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, this shift in perspective on perspicuity happened due to the very real differences on some major doctrines within the Protestant movement itself. If every single statement the Scriptures made about  doctrine were so clear, how could such divisions exist within a movement that was upholding sola scriptura? The answer was that perspicuity applied to that which is essential for salvation, and that shift in perspective can be observed in the writings of the Lutherans listed here.

What applications might this have? The first is that the many attempts by Christians to argue for their own doctrinal perspectives simply by appealing to the perspicuity of Scriptures fails. To argue that someone else denies perspicuity of Scripture because they disagree on certain doctrinal positions is an abuse of the doctrine of perspicuity of Scriptures. It also shows an incapacity to show one’s own point clearly from the Scriptures themselves. A second application is that it acknowledges some of the difficulty in understanding Scripture rightly.

The doctrine of perspicuity is a major aspect of Reformation theology. It should not, however, be over-generalized and abused in the way that it has, unfortunately, often been used.

[1] In researching this post, I noticed that the Wikipedia page on the clarity of Scripture has been edited to suggest without qualification that all Lutherans hold to the notion that “Lutherans hold that the Bible presents all doctrines and commands of the Christian faith clearly. God’s Word is freely accessible to every reader or hearer of ordinary intelligence, without requiring any special education.” The citations provided to show that all Lutherans hold to this teaching are not to any of the early Lutheran reformers, nor are they citations of the Book of Concord; rather, they are references to two sources published by a publishing house of one form of American Lutherans. These sources are from 1934 and 1910, respectively, and not in the Reformation period nor do they, so far as I can tell, speak for all Lutherans. Given the evidence cited above from Quenstedt, Gerhard, and the like, I find it hard to believe such a claim could be substantiated.

Sources

Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will in Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation edited by Rupp and Watson (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1969).

Heinrich Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology– I note the influence that the Reformation period continues to have on many aspects of our lives.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Indulgences are Worse than Useless: Reformation 500

Martin Luther2017 marks the 500th anniversary of what is hailed by many as the start of the Reformation: Luther’s sharing his 95 Theses. I’ve decided to celebrate my Lutheran Protestant Tradition by highlighting some of the major issues that Luther and the Lutherans raised through the Reformation period. I hope you will join me as we remember the great theological (re)discoveries that were made during this period.

Indulgences are Worse than Useless

Luther’s critique of indulgences was a typical (for him) combination of insight and invective. He sought to clearly condemn not just the sale of but also the use of indulgences, which means parts of his critique remain quite relevant today. Here we will draw primarily from Luther’s explanations of his 95 theses.

Luther argued that the pope actually has no power over purgatory and, moreover, that if the pope did have this power, he ought to exercise it:

If the pope does have the power to release anyone from purgatory, why in the name of love does he not abolish purgatory by letting everyone out? (81-82, cited below)

The question cuts straight to he heart of the system in which the pope is exalted as having power over souls in purgatory. It is clear that Luther did not at this point denounce the doctrine of purgatory. What his point is directed at instead, is the claim that the pope does have such power. After all, if the pope does have such power, then why would he not simply release all the souls from purgatory immediately, thus granting a most generous and wonderful reprieve? The fact that the pope of Luther’s time did not do so and was in fact selling indulgences for coin spoke volumes about the doctrine itself and the need for reformation.

But the point still has relevance today, as one might ask the question: if the pope today currently has the power over purgatory, why does he not simply release all those who are suffering there? One possible answer might be because it is just that people undergo such suffering or bettering of themselves in purgatory that they might truly be, er, reformed. But then the question of the two kingdoms comes to mind. After all, such a response effectively strips the pope of the power that has allegedly been granted him, for if the spiritual benefits of purgatory are so great, why does he ever exercise the power he is said to hold? The argument can proceed indefinitely in a circle, which seems to show that the initial point is valid.

Luther, however, did not stop there. Rather than questioning the power of the pope to grant indulgences, he also noted the great spiritual harm such indulgences do:

Indulgences are positively harmful to the recipient because they impede salvation by diverting charity and inducing a false sense of security… Indulgences are most pernicious because they induce complacency and thereby imperil salvation. Those persons are damned who think that letters of indulgence make them certain of salvation. (82)

Indulgences, by granting pardon from sin or the consequences thereof, produce a false sense of security of salvation that may lead rather to damnation. For once one believes that because someone else has told them future or past sins are paid for by some collection of merit of others, they may believe that they are forgiven, when they have not confessed and repented of that sin to God. Thus, a false sense of security is gained, but in reality the person may be condemned, not having received full and free forgiveness of their sins.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Please check out my other posts on the Reformation:

I discuss the origins of the European Reformations and how many of its debates carry on into our own day.

The notion of “sola scriptura” is of central importance to understanding the Reformation, but it is also hotly debated to day and can be traced to many theological controversies of our time. Who interprets Scripture? 

The Church Universal: Reformation Review–  What makes a church part of the Church Universal? What makes a church part of the true church? I write on these topics (and more!) and their origins in the Reformation.

The Continuing Influence of the Reformation: Our lives, our thoughts, our theology– I note the influence that the Reformation period continues to have on many aspects of our lives.

Source

Quotes from Luther are from Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Abingdon, 1950). It appears as though Bainton was either translating directly from a German edition or paraphrasing Luther.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Practical Lutheranism: What is Sabbath?

Martin LutherI have been reading through the Book of Concord. I think it is vitally important for one who, like me, claiming to be Lutheran to be familiar with the Lutheran Confessions. That is, after all, what we believe and confess. I have been writing a series of posts on Practical Lutheranism based on the Book of Concord. These teachings remain viable and valuable today.

What is Sabbath?

One of the debates that has raged within Christianity (with different levels of flame behind this raging, whether it be a mere flickering candle or a roaring fire) has been the meaning of “Sabbath” and how it is integrated into the Christian life. Volumes have been written, multi-view books published, denominations split or created, and the like on this topic.

Luther’s Large Catechism offered a way forward in this debate, offering an understanding of keeping the day holy that could be lived by the Christian. He wrote:

Accordingly, when you are asked what “You are to hallow the day of rest” means, answer: “Hallowing the day of rest means to keep it holy.” What is meant by “keeping it holy”? Nothing else than devoting it to holy words, holy works, and holy living… [The Sabbath Day] becomes holy or unholy on your account, depending on whether you spend it doing something holy or unholy. How does such sanctifying take place? Not when we sit behind the stove and refrain from hard work, or place a garland on our head and dress up in our best clothes, but… when we make use of God’s Word and exercise ourselves in it. [The Large Catechism, Part I, 87-88, cited below]

Yet Luther, as is so often the case for Luther (and Lutherans), was not content to leave it there. In the spirit of the Lutheran both/and, he expanded this notion of making holy to the whole of Christian life:

Truly, we Christians ought to make every day such a holy day and devote ourselves only to holy things, that is, to occupy ourselves daily with God’s Word and carry it in our hearts and on our lips… For non-Christians can spend a day in rest and idleness, too… but without keeping a single day holy, because they neither preach nor practice God’s Word… [Large Catechism, I:89-90]

Thus, for Luther, we ought to remember Christ’s words: we were not made for Sabbath, but Sabbath for us. Moreover, Sabbath is part of the overall Christian life instead of being relegated to merely one part of the week. Making the day holy is something we ought always be doing: reflecting on God’s Word, singing Psalms, and praying.

Source

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Adhering to the Book of Concord “In So Far As” or “Because” it Agrees with Scripture?– I argue that Lutherans must hold the position that we adhere to the Book of Concord In So Far As it Agrees with Scripture.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Book Review: “The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology” by Jordan Cooper

tgd-cooperThe Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology presents a broad-spectrum look at Reformed theology from a Lutheran perspective.* Cooper breaks this analysis up into three parts: Predestination and Free Will, Worship and the Sacraments, and Salvation. These parts are intended to show the greatest dividing lines between Reformed and Lutheran thought.

It is really quite exciting to see how well-read Cooper is on both Reformed and Lutheran thought. On the Reformed side, he frequently cites Calvin (of course), Bavinck, Edwards, Piper, Grudem, and more. On the Lutheran side, he draws from Luther, Chemnitz, Melanchthon, Kolb, and more. This thorough use of sources on both sides helps shield against bias, as Cooper continually cites the words of prominent theologians of each tradition.

Cooper provides in each chapter a presentation of Reformed thought on the topic, drawing extensively from prominent Reformed thinkers past and present, as well as various Reformed Confessions. Then, he provides a look at the Lutheran perspective, often quoting the Lutheran Confessions as well as prominent Lutheran thinkers. After providing this comparison, Cooper argues for the Lutheran position, noting the points of divergence along the way. At many points, this analysis is fairly robust. However, at other points Cooper does swiftly move from one point to another before providing enough to establish each point.

One of the things that comes to the front most clearly in the book is just how close Reformed and Lutheran thought are on a number of issues. Unfortunately, as close as the two traditions come on many areas, the chasm between the two remains vast. This is particularly clear in regards to the Sacraments and Predestination. I was also pretty surprised to see how different the Reformed and Lutheran view regarding worship is. The regulative principle within Reformed thought–that whatever is not commanded in Scripture ought not to be done in worship–was something that startled me. I hadn’t considered such a position, but Cooper showed the arguments for and against this position, coming down on the side of Lutheranism (again, he’s coming from that perspective), which sees worship as something that God allows for more leeway in than do Reformed thinkers.

It is truly amazing how much information Cooper manages to convey in just 200 pages. Readers are introduced to both Lutheran and Reformed perspectives on a number of important theological topics, treated to both exposition of those views and offered critique of the Reformed position all in a very clear style and form.

There are two minor critiques I’d offer of the book. The first is the continued use of the archaic “man” to refer to all people. There were, in fact, a few places in which I had to work to discern whether Cooper meant all people or just men when it came to what he was writing. A second critique is that because of the books relatively short length, some of the arguments on either the Reformed or Lutheran side seem extremely brief, leaving some of the arguments inconclusively demonstrated.

Jordan Cooper’s The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology is a vast trove of information and analysis. Extensively researched and well-reasoned, it will provide readers unfamiliar with either Reformed or Lutheran theology (or both) an introduction to each tradition as well as a look at how they may interact with one another.

The Good

+Engages with prominent theologians from each group
+Historically informed
+Treats Reformed thought fairly
+Vast wealth of information

The Bad

-Continued use of archaic “man” etc. as inclusive
-Some points are breezed through very quickly

*It is worth noting my own bias here: I am a Lutheran who was raised Lutheran and, though I wandered a little bit, have become quite convinced of Lutheran theology in recent years.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 

Source

Jordan Cooper The Great Divide: A Lutheran Evaluation of Reformed Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Who is Worthy?- A reflection on closed communion in Lutheran churches

I do not claim rights to this image and was unable to find original source. Possibly here: http://thehandsomehansons.blogspot.com/2010/11/lutheran-seal.html

I do not claim rights to this image and was unable to find original source. Possibly here: http://thehandsomehansons.blogspot.com/2010/11/lutheran-seal.html

My wife and I have been refused communion on more than one occasion. In each instance it was in a Lutheran church that we were turned away. We are, ourselves, Lutherans, but the church bodies that did not commune us were different groups of Lutherans, and held that the divisions between us justified not giving us the gifts of the sacrament that Christ promised.

Here, I’d like to examine this practice of some Lutheran churches, often referred to as “closed communion.”[1] What do the actual Lutheran Confessions say about who may receive the Lord’s Supper? That is the question which must be asked by any claiming to be Lutheran.

We believe, teach, and confess that the entire worthiness of the guests at the table of his heavenly meal is and consists alone in the most holy obedience and perfect merit of Christ. We make his obedience and merit our own through true faith, concerning which we receive assurance through the sacrament. Worthiness consists in no way in our own virtues, or in internal or external preparations. (The Formula of Concord, Epitome, Article VII, Section 20)

The Lutheran Confessions leave no wiggle room here. What makes one worthy to receive the sacrament? Is it one’s preparation? No. Is it one’s denominational commitment? No. It is explicitly and clearly stated here: “the most holy obedience and perfect merit of Christ” which is itself made our own “through true faith.” Indeed, what does it mean to add the requirement of complete doctrinal agreement onto these words? Would not such a teaching be to make one’s “own virtues”–here of the doctrinal variety–what makes one worthy? It seems so. The teaching here, however, is that it is only faith in Christ’s words and works that make one worthy.

Just in case one wants to persist and allege that there may be some difficulty interpreting these words, Martin Luther himself states, in the Large Catechism:

Now we must also consider who the person is who receives such power and benefit [from the Lord’s Supper]… It is the one who believes what the words say and what they give, for they are not spoken or preached to stone and wood but to those who hear them, to those whom he says, “Take and eat”…All those who let these words be addressed to them and believe that they are true have what the words declare…
Now this is the sum total of a Christian’s preparation to receive this sacrament worthily. (The Large Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar, section 33-36)

What does Luther himself teach here? “[T]his is the sum total of a Christian’s preparation…” (emphasis mine). And what is that sum total? Simply being one who “let these words be addressed to them and believe that they are true…” Once again, we see no mention of further conditions. There is no place here for refusing communion to those who believe the words are for them. The Christian must simply take hold of the words of Christ, which promise his body and blood to them. They need not be part of a specific denomination (which would have been historically impossible or at least unlikely at this point). It is the faith of the individual that makes them worthy, not their adherence to a set of doctrinal truths apart from those affirmed about the Lord’s Supper.

What do Lutherans who turn away other Lutherans from the sacrament say about their reasoning? Here is one example, from the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod:

Because the Bible teaches that this Sacrament may also be spiritually harmful if misused, and that participation in the Lord’s Supper is an act of confession of faith, the LCMS ordinarily communes only those who have been instructed in the teachings of our church and who have confessed their faith in these teachings. (LCMS FAQ, cited below)

Here we see an unwarranted limit being placed on the sacrament of communion. What makes one worthy to receive this sacrament? The Lutheran Confessions make it explicit that that which makes one worthy is faith in the words of Christ. Here, however, an addition is made: “only those who have been instructed in the teachings of our church [the LCMS] and who have confessed their faith in these teachings” are “ordinarily” communed. Yet this limit is nowhere taught in the Book of Concord.

Counter-Argument

A possible counter-argument to the above is that there were no divergent Lutherans or Lutheran groups at the time the Lutheran Confessions were written, so they couldn’t have even addressed the issue. Apart from the fact that this is historically false (for parts of the Book of Concord were written to correct others within the folds of Lutheranism), it doesn’t change the Book of Concord’s teaching on the topic. The Lutheran Confessions make very strong statements. Phrases like “the sum total” and “alone” are used accompanying what the Confessions teach in regards to worthiness for the Lord’s Supper. These phrases are exclusive. That is, they affirm explicitly that no other expectations may be added. For what else might saying “sum total” or “alone” mean?

Conclusion

Those Lutheran groups who have added requirements for worthily receiving the Lord’s Supper stand against the Book of Concord’s own teaching on the topic. Time and again Luther and other confessors state that the only requirement for worthiness is to affirm the words of Christ and take hold of them by faith. Any who add requirements to receiving this sacrament have made their own words supersede those of the Confessions.

[1] Closed communion may also refer to simply keeping communion closed to those who affirm what the Book of Concord teaches regarding the Lord’s Supper. There is a fine line between this practice and making the additions to the Book of Concord’s teaching as noted in this post. I am not addressing this less stringent variety here.

Sources

LCMS Frequently Asked Questions Doctrinal Issues- The Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion (accessible here).

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Adhering to the Book of Concord “In So Far As” or “Because” it Agrees with Scripture?– I argue that Lutherans must hold the position that we adhere to the Book of Concord In So Far As it Agrees with Scripture.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Practical Lutheranism: Luther on the 5th Commandment and Refugees

I have been reading through the Book of Concord, which is a collection of the Lutheran Confessions. I think it is vitally important for one who, like me, claiming to be Lutheran to be familiar with these documents. They are, after all, what we believe and confess. I decided to start a series of posts as I’m reading through the Book of Concord to highlight various areas I think are important.

The Fifth Commandment and Refugees

There is much fear in the world today over the question of Syrian Refugees. I’ve been reading through the Book of Concord and I ran into the section on the Fifth Commandment. I was taken back by how lucid Luther’s interpretation is there, and it has some serious application for today:

Therefore it is God’s ultimate purpose that we suffer harm to befall no [hu]man, but show [them] all good and love; and, as we have said, it is specially directed toward those who are our enemies. For to do good to our friends is but an ordinary heathen virtue, as Christ says Matt. 5:46.

One can see these same thoughts echoed in the discussion of the seventh commandment:

…we are commanded to promote and further our neighbors’ interests, and when they suffer any want, we are to help, share, and lend to both friends and foes (251-252)

What is particularly uncomfortable about these words is the word of law that is contained within them: “both friends and foes” are included in these commands. We ought to further their interests, “help, share, and lend to” them “when they suffer any want,” and show them “all good and love.” Luther is abundantly clear on this point: “it is specially directed toward those who are our enemies.”

Could more prophetic words have been written by Luther? Surely, the times in which we fear our enemies and wish to do nothing but avoid them are legion. Today is but one example of human injustice to fellow humans. But the words of the Commandments brook no argument, and Luther’s interpretation makes this abundantly clear: “to do good to our friends is but an ordinary heathen virtue…” and we are given a higher calling.

Those objections that would point to individual instances of violence, those who would alleged terrorists sneaking into our borders, and the like: the word of the law is spoken, and it is a powerful one: Christ’s calling is higher. When they suffer–even when our enemies suffer–we ought help them. If that means letting in the Syrian refugee fleeing from the violence in their homeland, if that means the “illegal immigrant” running from poverty and destitution, then so be it. There is no question here. There is no exception for fear that they will “steal our jobs” or that they speak a different language or have a different skin color or a different religion or anything of the sort. The words Luther writes here are clear: “it is God’s ultimate purpose that we suffer harm to befall no” one.

Source

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Adhering to the Book of Concord “In So Far As” or “Because” it Agrees with Scripture?– I argue that Lutherans must hold the position that we adhere to the Book of Concord In So Far As it Agrees with Scripture.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Bonhoeffer’s Troubling Theology? – A response to an article on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological perspectives

dietrich_bonhoeffer

Recently, Richard Weikart wrote an article entitled “The Troubling Truth About Bonhoeffer’s Theology.” Not surprisingly, this article called attention to some aspects of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology which would be considered, well, troubling to evangelicals.

The article has much to commend it: it shows that we ought not to make any theologian into an idol or endorse everything anyone writes. Indeed, the conclusion of the article has little to question in it: “What then should we make of Bonhoeffer? While recognizing his many admirable traits—compassion, courage, commitment, and integrity—we should be wary of many elements of his theology.” I think this kind of critical perspective is something evangelicals–and Christians generally–ought to take to heart. We should always test theologians by what Scripture teaches us.

All of that said, there are some aspects I wanted to respond to in the article, particularly to give some more context for Bonhoeffer as well as his Lutheran theology. I’m sure Weikart is more studied on Bonhoeffer than I am, and I don’t claim to be an expert on Bonhoeffer’s thought. What I do know, however, is a good amount about Lutheran theology, and what I have read of and about Bonhoeffer. And all of that, I think, is enough to allow me to offer some areas of criticism regarding the article.

The Bible and Apologetics

There is no question that Bonhoeffer’s view of the Bible was heavily influenced by Karl Barth. Weikart is correct to note that this means that, for Bonhoeffer, Scripture is not inerrant. Indeed, he believes the Bible scientifically silly at points (see his Creation and Fall, for example). Scripture was, for both Barth and Bonhoeffer, important more for conveying truths about Christ than it is for being verbally inspired. Scripture conveys the revelation of Christ, rather than itself being revelation, according to both. This is, indeed, a weakness in their theology.

Later, Weikart critiques Bonhoeffer for his view of apologetics: “[Bonhoeffer] thought that the historical accuracy of Scripture was irrelevant. Barth (and Bonhoeffer) considered apologetics misguided, because it transgressed the boundaries separating the empirical and religious realms.”

I’m not sure about the first part of this claim. If, by “historical accuracy,” Weikart means the individual details of how events happened, or specific views of creationism and the like, then the statement is true. But the brush seems to be a bit too broad here; given Bonhoeffer’s view of the importance of Christ, the cross, and the Resurrection, to broadly say that none of these were seen as historical or were in fact irrelevant is to speak too strongly. Did Bonhoeffer think things like the length of creation days, the exact words spoken by the serpent at the Fall, and the like were historically irrelevant? Yes, pretty much. But that doesn’t mean he thought there was nothing of historical value therein, nor does it mean he rejected the usefulness of Scripture. This is a common error evangelicals make regarding the views of Christians who do not affirm inerrancy. Admittedly, it’s one I have made at times. Just because someone doesn’t affirm a form of verbal inspiration does not entail they think everything in the Bible is false or questionable.

Regarding the second part of the claim, it is easy to assume someone like Barth or Bonhoeffer completely rejected apologetics, and indeed each makes statements to that effect; but what they mean by apologetics largely means a kind of apologetics that puts humanity in judgment of God. Barth and Bonhoeffer would not completely reject any form of defense of the faith, but they would reject those that rely on natural theology and the like. Bowman and Boa’s book, Faith Has Its Reasons categorizes Barth as a “fideist” apologist. Delving into those issues would take too long, but it is safe to say that Bonhoeffer would not have been completely against any form of apologetics whatsoever. His own apologetic would have been personal and existential, and apologists ought not to dismiss this aspect of a holistic view of Christianity.

“Conversion Experience”?

Weikart writes, “Though he experienced some kind of conversion around 1931, he hardly ever mentioned it. Later he expressed distaste for Christians talking or writing about their conversions.” Later, he makes his aversion to Bonhoeffer’s Lutheranism plain: “Aside from his faulty view of Scripture, Bonhoeffer’s doctrine of salvation was also problematic. As a Lutheran he embraced baptismal regeneration.”

The multiple mentions about Bonhoeffer’s “conversion” reveal more about the author of the article than about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was, like myself, a Lutheran and ought to be evaluated as such. Unless Weikart wants to dismiss all Lutherans as unsaved heretics–or at least as affirming “troubling” theology–he cannot simply dismiss Bonhoeffer’s view because he didn’t talk about his “conversion experience.”

The fact that Weikart continues to emphasize this makes me wonder just how inclusive his definition of “evangelical” is supposed to be. Lutherans do not have an emphasis on finding some specific event, date, or time that signify we converted to Christianity. Because of the emphasis in Lutheran theology on predestination and baptism, such language seems to us to imply a kind of work of conversion being done by the individual rather than by God. Indeed, for many Lutherans, if pressed to pick a moment of conversion, that would be whatever time they were baptized as an infant. This is not the place to delve into the debate over baptism, infant baptism, and the like. Instead, I’m giving context to Bonhoeffer’s theology and experience. Martin Luther himself affirmed vehemently that infants can have faith, and however absurd this might seem to many non-Lutherans, the reason is because faith is the act of the Holy Spirit–it is pure grace, not tied to some specific synergistic act or affirmation by a human. To critique Bonhoeffer because he wasn’t speaking to the expectations of whatever brand of evangelicalism Weikart subscribes to is to decontextualize his theology and, indeed, to effectively dismiss Lutheran confessions of faith.

Weikart most likely does disagree with much of the Lutheran Confessions, but this does not mean it is acceptable to critique someone like Bonhoeffer as though he is some kind of mainstream evangelical instead of being a Lutheran.

“Religionless Christianity”

Weikart quotes the somewhat infamous passage Bonhoeffer wrote of his resistance to “everything ‘religious.'” Such words tend to rile those who adhere to a narrative of a “culture war” between Christianity and… everything else. But, like Kierkegaard, who gets lumped in by Weikart along with other apparently “troubling” theologians, Bonhoeffer’s comments on religion must be read contextually. Eric Metaxas writes about this very same quote in his lengthy biography (and sometimes controversial) on Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy:

The most tortured interpretations [of Bonhoeffer] have fixed on his reference to “religionless Christianity”… [Bonhoeffer] saw a situation so bleak… that he was rethinking some basic things and wondered whether modern man had moved beyond religion. What Bonhoeffer meant by “religion” was not true Christianity, but the ersatz and abbreviated Christianity that he spent his life working against. This “religious” Christianity had failed Germany and the West during this great time of crisis…. and he wondered whether it wasn’t finally time for the lordship of Jesus Christ to move past Sunday mornings and churches and into the whole world. (466-467, cited below)

The crisis, of course, was Germany in World War II–the same Nazi Germany which executed Bonhoeffer shortly before the end of the war. Weikart’s warnings about Bonhoeffer’s comments on “religion,” it seems, fall into the same trap that many fall into when discussing Kierkegaard–failing to take the historical context and particular usage of the term seriously. Though some have objected to Metaxas’ portrayal of Bonhoeffer, the historical context provided here can hardly be questioned, because it is exactly what Bonhoeffer was rejecting against.

Evangelical Lutheran Hero?

Did Bonhoeffer have some aspects of his theology that evangelicals will find troubling? Absolutely, and Weikart does a good job highlighting some of these. But the point I’m trying to make is that none of this means that Bonhoeffer needs to be rejected or thrown out as an evangelical (and/or Lutheran) hero. Indeed, for the Lutheran in particular, Bonhoeffer’s theology shows us how true it is that we are all but sinner-saints. Though chosen by God and saved by grace alone, that does not mean we will be perfect now, and it means that we may have ideas that will be mistaken throughout our lives.

Many of the greatest theologians of all time have aspects of their theology that evangelicals will find troubling. Obvious examples would include Calvin (who would be troubling to Arminians) and Arminius (whose theology is troubling to Calvinists). But, alas, no human is perfect, and even greats like Augustine, Aquinas, Mother Theresa, and the like will not withstand scrutiny to determine whether they were perfect or affirmed a perfect theology.

Conclusion

Go ahead, enjoy Bonhoeffer’s works, note how he was a hero, and talk about his legacy. But read his works as you would any others: with a critical eye. As far as this article is concerned, as a Lutheran I found it somewhat troubling myself. Does Weikart genuinely mean to imply that all Lutherans must be excluded from the fold of evangelicalism? I’m not sure, but at least some of his criticism leveled at Bonhoeffer would just as easily be applied to Lutheran theology, generally speaking. And that, as I said above, seems to reveal more about the author than about Bonhoeffer.

Sources

Richard Weikart, The Troubling Truth about Bonhoeffer’s Theology (http://www.equip.org/article/troubling-truth-bonhoeffers-theology/) accessed 1/24/16.

Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyrd, Prophet, Spy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for my writings on science fiction, history, fantasy movies, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Another Problem for Book of Concord Inerrantists

A title page of the Book of Concord

A title page of the Book of Concord

I have argued before that the stance of “confessional” Lutherans of having 100% agreement with the book of concord is unable to be maintained in the face of the evidence within the Book of Concord itself. That is, I believe that one must adhere to the Book of Concord “in so far as” it agrees with the Bible as opposed to “because” it agrees with the Bible. See my post on the topic for in-depth discussion of this distinction and its importance. I argued there, also, that the “because” position largely leads to a kind of inerrancy of the Book of Concord. After all, if the Book of Concord is to be agreed with because it agrees with the Bible, and the Bible is inerrant, it follows that anything that agrees with Scriptures 100% of the time will be without error.

Another example of defining Lutheranism according to strict adherence to the Book of Concord may be found in a recent post by Christopher Maronde entitled “What does the name ‘Lutheran’ mean?”:

Its meaning is simple: The name Lutheran refers to a person, congregation, or church body who unconditionally holds to the teachings contained within the Book of Concord, first published in 1580. A Lutheran is someone who declares that these specific documents rightly confess the truth of the Scriptures. It’s that simple; if you want to know what a Lutheran believes, if you want to know what that label means, you go to the Book of Concord. If you want to know if someone is using the label properly, you evaluate what they believe, teach, and confess according to the Book of Concord. (here)

These positions are generally considered to have a monopoly on the term “Confessional Lutheran” because they teach 100% affirmation of the Book of Concord and restrict any notion of Lutheran to that same adherence. My position, however, is that such a position cannot be maintained, nor should it have a monopoly on the term “Confessional Lutheran.”

Maronde’s definition above seems to provide a small loophole: it states that the Lutheran is to “unconditionally [hold] to the teachings contained within the book of Concord.” The key term here is “teachings.” At this point, if we grant this definition, one could argue that some purported errors in the Book of Concord may not be what the Book of Concord is teaching. However, later in the same quote, we see Maronde writes, “[I]f you want to know what that label means, you go to the Book of Concord…” which once again implies adherence to the totality, word-for-word truth of the Book of Concord. Yet the fact is the Book of Concord is not 100% true in every word-for-word instance.

I ran across another example of this in my readings the other day. In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther wrote,

This, I think, is why we Germans from ancient times have called God by a name more elegant and worthy than found in any other language, a name derived from the word ‘good,’ because he is an eternal fountain who overflows with pure goodness… [The Large Catechism, Part I, 25]

As Kolb and Wengert, editors of the critical edition of the Book of Concord published by Fortress Press note, the words for God and good in German (Gott and gut) are not derived from the same etymological root after all- “German: gut. This derivation is etymologically incorrect. The words for ‘God’… and ‘good’.. are not related in either Gothic or in Middle High German” (footnote 41 on page 389, cited below). Thus, within the very text of the Book of Concord, we have a clear error. Indeed, one that cannot be skirted around by arguing it is not something being taught therein; instead, it is clear that Luther is trying to teach about the meaning of God from an etymological derivation which is non-existent.

Therefore, it seems to me that the position of so-called “Confessional Lutheranism” and those who, like them, define Lutheranism narrowly to mean 100% adherence to the Book of Concord is clearly and demonstrably mistaken. The burden falls upon them to demonstrate that their position is actually viable in light of real, taught errors within the Book of Concord itself.

What does this mean for Lutherans–and indeed, Lutheranism? It certainly doesn’t mean we should all go chuck our Book of Concord editions in the trash. What it means is that, like any book, we should read the Book of Concord with a critical eye, checking it against God’s Word as found in the Scriptures and against the facts that we can discover in other studies as well. The Book of Concord is not inerrant, but that doesn’t mean a Lutheran cannot confess agreement with it so far as it agrees with Scripture, and, in doing so, remain a Confessional Lutheran.

Source

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2000).

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Adhering to the Book of Concord “In So Far As” or “Because” it Agrees with Scripture?– I argue that Lutherans must hold the position that we adhere to the Book of Concord In So Far As it Agrees with Scripture.

Eclectic Theist– Check out my other blog for posts on Star Trek, science fiction, fantasy, books, sports, food, and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

Adhering to the Book of Concord: “In So Far As” or “Because” it agrees with Scripture?

A title page of the Book of Concord

A title page of the Book of Concord

Lutheran theology is derived from and reflective upon not just Martin Luther but also the Lutheran Confessions, as found in the Book of Concord. Within Lutheranism, there is much debate over exactly how tightly one must adhere to the Book of Concord. On one side, there are those who insist we must affirm the Book of Concord “because” it agrees with the Bible. On the other side, others maintain we should

Because it Agrees

Representative of the view that one must agree with the Book of Concord because it teaches what the Bible teaches is the following:

Authentically Lutheran churches insist on a subscription to the Confessions [The Lutheran Confessions/Book of Concord are used interchangeably] because they agree with the Bible, not merely in so far as they agree with Scripture. Otherwise, there would be no objective way to make sure that there is faithful teaching and preaching of God’s Word. Everything would depend on each pastor’s private opinions, subjective interpretations, and personal feelings, rather than on objective truth as set forth in the Lutheran Confessions. (Book of Concord (.org) FAQ)

Note some important aspects in this quote. First, the Book of Concord just does agree with the Bible. That is insisted upon. Second, the Book of Concord is said to be “objective truth” as opposed to the “subjective interpretations” of the individual. These considerations frame what I’d like to comment on regarding those who hold to the view that we must agree with the book of Concord “because…”

Because? 

I’ll start with the second aspect noted above. There are, of course, all kinds of increasingly detailed issues people on either side of the debate might raise here. For example, how are “objective” and “subjective” being here defined? I’m going to set that kind of issue mostly aside and focus on a few difficulties I see.

The first is that one cannot simply read the words off the pages of the Book of Concord without going through the necessary step of interpreting them. That is, I as a reader of the Book of Concord must try to make sense of the words I am reading, and thus I am participating in the act of interpreting the Book of Concord. If, as the quote above states, the problem is the individual’s subjective nature, then the problem is completely unavoidable. Indeed, even if we grant that the Book of Concord is “objective truth” in its entirety, all we’ve done is moved the problem of subjective interpretation one step back. Now the reader must interpret the Book of Concord in order to get to the objective truth about Scripture found therein.

Another difficulty with this objective/subjective distinction is that it assumes the writers of the Lutheran Confessions were themselves either not subjective (which seems impossible) or explicitly guided by the Spirit to write out objective truth only. I would not dispute that the Holy Spirit could bring about a completely faultless writing, but the question is whether those who affirm the “because” position would like to argue this. The first thing we should do if they do want to argue this would be to see whether the writers of the Book of Concord assert the Holy Spirit did bring about such a completely objective, 100% correct work.

In the Preface to the Book of Concord, we can read:

Finally, with invocation of God Almighty and to his praise and glory and with careful deliberation and meticulous diligence through the particular grace of the Holy Spirit, they wrote down in good order and brought together into one book everything that pertains to and is necessary for this purpose. (Preface, 12)

Later, the Preface makes clear (15) that this Book was “the correct, Christian understanding of the Augsburg Confession…” In the closing of the Preface, we read (23) that those who signed on to it that they “are minded not to manufacture anything new… nor to depart in either substance or expression… from the divine truth… by the grace of the Holy Spirit we intend to persist and remain unanimously in this truth and regulate all religious controversies and their explanations according to it.”

These are all strong statements, and they clearly called upon God the Holy Spirit for guidance in the composition of the various works that make up the Book of Concord. But does it follow that they were explicitly, inerrantly inspired and guided by the Spirit to never once get a single thing wrong in this book? Those who affirm the “because” position must answer yes. There is no wiggle room.

But a close reading of the Preface seems to suggest that although the writers certainly believed everything in the Book of Concord to be without theological error (otherwise they would not have it regulate all controversies, etc.), I have yet to find anywhere that a claim could be made that the book is explicitly inerrant. It would have to be, however, for the “because” position to be true. This human composition would have to be 100% correct in every single minute detail down to the last proof text cited in order for it to be acceptable to affirm that we must agree with it “because” it agrees with Scripture.

Among other things, what follows from that is that anyone who subscribes to the Book of Concord “because” position must have read the entirety, looked up every citation, and assured themselves that every single interpretation, doctrinal position, and the like is 100% correct, lest they be saying that it is a human-made book without error on God’s Word without actually knowing every detail it contains.

The first issue raised above will be addressed in the section named “A Case Study,” below.

In So Far As

A supporting argument for the “In So Far As” position is that we should always only affirm that which is true. If we can agree that the Bible is true in all it teaches, then we should only agree with other writings about the Bible so far as they agree with the Bible. This seems like an obvious conclusion, but the whole debate centers on whether this argument is sound. It is difficult for me to figure out how to support this argument, not because I think it is a poor argument, but because it seems just intuitively clear.

It may help to use an analogy. Historians have debated how to write history and whether writers of history can ever fully get at the “true” history as it happened. Yet very few would deny that there is such a thing as a “true” history. There must be some absolutely correct sequence in which events occurred such that if we had a complete set of writings that simply reported those events, that would be the “true” history. Thus, there is an objectively true history, against which historians can be measured. Granting some of the hand waving involved in this thought experiment, suppose we had a book, The True History of the World, and we looked up the John F. Kennedy assassination therein. We would then have the objectively true report of that hotly-debated historical event as it really did happen. Now suppose I wanted to write a book about the JFK assassination based upon The True History of the World. However careful a historian I am, however excellent and detailed my mind is, however much guidance I may have had, would it be reasonable to say that you agree with my book, The Objective JFK Assassination “because” it agrees with The True History of the World or “in so far as” it does? It seems that the reasonable conclusion would be “in so far as” it does, because we know that The True History of the World is objectively true.

Though imperfect, this analogy gets at the argument written above. We can agree the Bible is inerrant. Thus, if I were to write a book entitled The Objective Bible, I think we can agree that we should only agree with my book so far as it agrees with the Bible, right? No matter how detailed I am, no matter how meticulous, no matter how large a group of thoughtful interpreters I got together to vet my work, it would be entirely reasonable to only affirm agreement with my book so far as it is biblical. Then why would such a standard not also apply to the Book of Concord? I see no reason why that standard would not.

Indeed, to argue against those who affirm the Book of Concord only “in so far as” it agrees with the Bible would mean that one would have to assert that the caution and respect for God’s word implicit in that position–that I would not want to affirm anything, even by mistake, as biblical if it is even possibly in error anywhere–are mistaken. That the care and caution necessary to say “I will only agree with any book in so far as it agrees with the Word of God” is mistaken, and that that the Book of Concord must also be included under the umbrella of books against which all others must be judged.

For the “because” position ultimately, unswervingly leads to the conclusion that we should only affirm any other book “in so far as” it agrees with the Book of Concord. After all, if it is true that the Book of Concord is affirmed because it agrees with Scripture, then it follows that the authority of the Bible is effectively equivalent to the authority of the Book of Concord. The Bible is God’s word, and the Book of Concord is the objective teaching of God’s word without even possible error. That is not simply rhetoric; it is what must follow from the “because” position. Any interpretation of the Bible must be judged against the Book of Concord; hence, any reading of the Bible must also be judged against it.

A Case Study

Finally, we are in position to ask whether the Book of Concord does indeed have any error therein. That is a crucial question, of course, and one not easily resolved by those who remain faithful Lutherans. If, however, there is even one incorrect use of a proof text in the Book of Concord, the “because” position fails.

In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIII (XI) on the Marriage of Priests, section 25, we read:

Therefore this law concerning perpetual celibacy is peculiar to this new pontifical despotism. Nor is it without a reason. For Daniel 11:37, ascribes to the kingdom of Antichrist this mark, namely, the contempt of women.

Daniel 11:37 reads (ESV) “He shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women. He shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all.”

The whole passage is difficult to interpret given its prophetic message about the Kings of the North and the South. I’m not going to enter into whether this is specifically referencing “Antichrist” or “the kingdom of Antichrist” or anything of the sort. Instead, the issue is with the reading as “contempt of women.” The Reformers were obviously not using the ESV or anything in English. But older English editions like the KJV might support this text as a proof for contempt of women: “Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all.”

But the problem is that critical editions of the Old Testament don’t support a reading as contempt of women. Without going into depths of detail, and because I’m not a Hebrew scholar by any measure, I would just point out that the Hebrew does seem to clearly state “the one desired by women.” So if we are to read 11:37 as a proof text for contempt of women, it doesn’t seem to be a right reading. It’s a minor difficulty, but one nevertheless. Did the citation above from the Book of Concord properly exegete the Bible? I would assert that the use of this proof text is mistaken. If we are to take “paying no attention” as “contempt”–itself a move that could be disputed, then the subject remains “the one desired by women” not “women.”

Now, if the Book of Concord should be agreed with because it agrees with the Bible, then how are we to take this? I don’t know. It seems to me that this is more an example of the way people read the Bible at the time and used proof texts–often stripped of context–in defense of their positions. A single dispute over a citation is not a paradigm shift; indeed, I think that the authors of the Apology were correct on this notion about the marriage of priests. But that doesn’t mean everything they wrote is correct.

Conclusion

I agree with and affirm the Book of Concord in so far as it agrees with Scripture. I think it is correct on a huge amount of the things it teaches. I am currently re-reading it (slowly) and checking citations as I go. I have found it to be edifying and a source of profound theological insight. But it is not the Bible, and I do not think that to be Lutheran–or even a confessing Lutheran–I need to affirm that the Book of Concord is without possible error.

Source

Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. with Charles P. Arand, translator, The Book of Concord.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

A Sacramental/Lutheran Response to Women in Church Leadership

785px-Bible_and_Lord's_Cup_and_BreadThe debate over women in the church–and particularly in church leadership–often has a different tenor when it is carried out in those church bodies which are sacramental in nature. A recent post over at The Junia Project entitled “Women & Leadership in Sacramental Churches” written by Tim Peck highlighted some of the different issues that come up in these church bodies. Here, I will present a few objections that often come up to women in leadership in sacramental churches, using Peck’s post for some insights. Then, I will note how from a Lutheran perspective, the notion that women cannot perform the sacraments is unfounded.

In the Place of Christ

One common objection to women serving in the office of the pastor has been that the pastor is to serve in the place of Christ when presiding over the sacraments. Thus, it is inferred that because Christ is a man, the pastor must also be a man. A similar objection is that Christ is the bridegroom of the church, and the pastor acts as Christ to the church. Thus, the pastor must be male, it is argued, because of the union of bride (church) and groom (Christ/pastor). As one complementarian I spoke with on this issue asserted, if the pastor were a woman, it would mean the church is in a homosexual relationship with the pastor (the inference being that the bride [church] would then be ‘married’ to the woman pastor).

The first part of the objection is answered fairly easily by pointing out, as Peck does, that:

Jesus was ethnically specific (Jewish), gender specific (male) and class specific (poor). To focus on just one and ignore the other two for the presider to function sacramentally seems arbitrary.

The second, similar objection can be answered by pointing out that the literal interpretation being used to exclude women from the pastoral office should also exclude any number of others from the office as well. After all, to turn the analogy the complementarian used above, if the pastor were married, then the pastor would be in a polygamous relationship with the church! But of course this is absurd. The reason it is absurd is because an analogy–the pastor being as Christ to the church–is being pressed into service literally. But this literalism is selective at best.

The Levitical Priesthood

Another argument I’ve heard a number of times is that pastors are analogous to the Levitical priesthood and, since no women were in the Levitical priesthood, women cannot serve as pastors. Peck again answers this argument:

[T]he New Testament itself insists that any priesthood existing among Christians would differ significantly from the old covenant priesthood. This should be obvious, since the old covenant priesthood was passed on by heredity. Moreover, men who suffered disabilities such as deformities, blindness, or mutilation were forbidden from serving as priests in the old covenant.

He offers other reasons to undermine this argument as well, but I think this one pretty much clinches it already: there is, again, a selectively literal reading happening. When it’s helpful for the complementarian argument, texts are taken literally, but even in the same contexts the literalism is not applied consistently.

A Lutheran Appeal

The Lutheran Confessions and the Administration of the Sacraments

From a confessional Lutheran perspective, the documents contained in the Book of Concord are binding. Yet, the types of arguments already analyzed above are often presented alongside the notion that a woman cannot perform the sacraments by virtue of being a woman. The reason this is true often varies from person to person, but the core of the reasoning is that women are excluded from the pastoral office and so by necessity cannot perform the sacraments. This reasoning reveals a presupposition: the sacraments, if performed by a woman, are made invalid.

The Augsburg Confession in Article VIII, states “Both the sacraments and the Word are efficacious because of the ordinance and command of Christ, even when offered by evil people.” In The Large Catechism, Fifth Part, “The Sacrament of the Altar,” Martin Luther states “Our conclusion is: Even though a scoundrel receives or administers the sacrament, it is the true sacrament… just as truly as when one uses it most worthily. For it is not founded on human holiness but on the Word of God.”

Thus, we find the unified teaching of the Book of Concord is that the efficacy of the sacraments is not based upon the person performing them. Indeed, if they were, then surely our confidence in the sacraments would be destroyed, for what pastor has no sin? The sacraments, then, cannot be made invalid because they are performed by a woman.

Responses to the Argument Above

The most likely response to this kind of reasoning would be to appeal to the biblical text to argue that women shouldn’t be pastors. However, this type of response would be a red herring. A discussion of the biblical texts is both necessary and valuable, but the argument that Lutheran complementarians have presented suggests that somehow the sacrament cannot be performed by a woman. Yet, as was demonstrated above, the Lutheran confessions themselves contradict this. The efficacy of the sacrament is not–thank God–dependent upon the one performing the sacrament. Thus, to argue that women would somehow invalidate the sacrament would be to deny the confessions of faith that we hold most dear and, indeed, undermine the very basis for our confidence in the validity of sacraments to begin with.

No human is without sin; none has no blemish. Our confidence in the sacraments is found not in the person performing them but in the unfailing word of God.

Another possible response is to appeal to, for example, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIV, section 1 in which it states that “no one should be allowed to administer the Word and sacraments unless they are duly called…” The appeal would then go on to suggest that no woman, by virtue of being a woman, can be “duly called” into the administration of the Word and Sacrament. This counter-argument begs the question from the beginning. Rather than offering an argument as to why women cannot be duly called, the complementarian has here simply assumed that women cannot be called and then applied this backwards to exclude women from performing sacraments.

If the appeal is then, again, made to the biblical text, then that is where the debate must play out. But notice that if one moves in this direction, they have already conceded the invalidity of the reasoning the argument began with. Instead, they must continually retreat from the reasoning used above and try to argue from proof texts through specific–often unquestioned–exegetical methods.

Conclusion

There are many arguments put forward in sacramental churches against the possibility of women being in the role of the pastor. An analysis of two primary arguments have shown they are faulty in that they are selectively literal. From a Lutheran perspective, we find that the Lutheran Confessions themselves actually work against anyone suggesting that the sacraments are invalid when performed by any variety of people. It is God working, not some magical formula that the human must perform.

We must instead go back to the texts and approach them with a cautious eye towards the fact that we have selectively taken parts literally that cannot, when pressed, hold up. The conversation within Lutheran circles–and indeed, within sacramental circles generally–should continue, but the arguments analyzed herein have been shown to be wanting.

Sources

Tim Peck, “Women & Leadership in Sacramental Churches” 2015, online at http://juniaproject.com/women-leadership-in-sacramental-churches/.

All citations of the Lutheran Confessions are from:

The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2008).

The Image in this post is from Wikimedia Commons and published under Creative Commons licensing. It was created by John Snyder and may be found here. Please appropriate cite if re-used.

SDG.

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